Several Iranian websites, including “Gooya,” have published the full text of the defense statement of internationally acclaimed Iranian film director Jafar Panahi, whose trial was reportedly held over the weekend.
Panahi was jailed in March in Iran and charged with unspecified crimes. He was released in May on bail following international calls for his release and after he went on a hunger strike. The authorities had said that Panahi, who sided with the Green opposition movement following last year’s disputed presidential election, was working on an antistate film.
In his defense statement, Panahi who has won several international prize for his movies, says that whatever sentence he is given would be a sentence against art and artists in the Islamic republic. He also says that despite all he’s been through he will remain in Iran.
Excerpts from the statement:
“You’ve put me on trial over a film that at the time of my arrest even 30 percent of it had not been shot yet. You have certainly heard the example that if you only say 50 percent of ‘La elaha elllalah’ [There is no God but God] which is a testimony to the unity of God, it is considered blasphemy. How can someone be charged over a film that [has not been completed]? Allow me to produce the rest of the film, then make a judgment about it.
“I’ve been accused of attending [public] gatherings. In the social cinema a filmmaker is an observer of social events. With regard to this view I should have been an observer of the events that were happening in my country. Even though a filmmaker observes through his camera, they didn’t give permission to use cameras to any filmmaker. An artist sees so that maybe one day he would be inspired to create art. I was an observer and it was my right to see. No one has the right to force an artist not to see. Why is an artist deprived of this right and charged with a crime?
“I’ve been accused of signing statements. I signed one statement and that was the statement of the 37 Iranian filmmakers. During those days any group would express its opinion about the events that were taking place in the country, 37 of the most prominent filmmakers of our country expressed their concern over the future of the country and I was one of them. Unfortunately, instead of paying attention to the concerns of those artists, who love their country, parts of the statement have been selected and they’ve turned into evidence of a crime.
“It’s been said that I was in charge of organizing demonstrations outside the country at the time of the opening of the Montreal Film Festival. Any charge needs to be backed by a bit of truth and fairness. I was the head of the jury at the Montreal Film Festival and I arrived there only a few hours before the opening ceremony. I who didn’t know anyone there, how could I have done such a thing? Have we forgotten that during those days, wherever in the world there was a ceremony, our compatriots living abroad would gather and make their demands? It was even happening at sports events. Do we have now to charge the soccer players who were wearing green wristbands or the head coach of the team of organizing the behavior of the spectators?
“It was said that I gave interviews to media based outside the country. Where in our laws have we been banned from giving interviews?
“Whatever history forgets, be sure that it won’t erase from its memory the way artists are being dealt with. The sentence you will give will be not be a sentence against me, but a sentence for Iran’s independent cinema. The cinema of Iran has in the past 30 years brought this country honor and a [good] reputation. You are giving your vote to that reputation.
“This is not my trial only. It’s the trial of the art and artists of this country. The witnesses to any country’s history are artwork and the way artists are being dealt with. Therefore any sentence that will be given by the court will be a sentence against all the artists, particularly the filmmakers of this country. And even a sentence for the Iranian society that has been for years the audience of that art. My sapling and the saplings of all the artists of Iran have their roots in the soil of this country and the fruit of our art tree is the result of the beauties and ugliness of this land. Therefore, any sentence that you give for my thought is a sentence against the people of this country.
“Despite all the unkindness, I, Jafar Panahi, announce that I am Iranian and that I will remain in Iran. I love my country and I have paid the price for it and if needed I will pay it again.”